Ian's Blog

Poem a day #NoMoreWar International #WWI Poetry Month: Undermanned by René Arcos (France, 1918) http://t.co/cfa9HE83Mz

Blog: Don’t bomb Iraq (again) http://t.co/IGfaLieMjo


Some­time in early 2014 you may receive a leaflet via junk mail, enti­tled ‘Bet­ter infor­ma­tion means bet­ter care‘ (2MB PDF file). It may not be clear from the leaflet that a sig­nif­i­cant change …

How to opt out of your NHS records being up-loaded to the Health & Social Care Information Centre.

Sermon for Advent 1, Year A

I love Advent.  Lights on dark nights, candles, purple stoles, Advent Markets, the smell of cinnamon, YHWH’s promise of something new based on what he’s done long ago.  We need the hope that comes from YHWH’s promise of something new based on what he’s done long ago.  And those we meet who do not know the Way need it all the more in these days when the hope in progress is dying, or dead already, like tree-leaves in autumn and early winter.  They need to hear from us that YHWH is on the world’s case and has a re-creation planned - well, already started in fact.  And they need to see YHWH modelling the re-creation amongst us, Jesus’s family, created and enlivened and fitted for service by his Spirit - the future in the present. 

I love Advent, too, because we usually get a lot of Isaiah.  We’ve had a little tonight, only a little, but what a gem of a section.  It follows immediately on from the end of chapter one of the book, in which we read of YHWH’s judgement against Israel because they have not behaved like his people.
‘How the faithful city has become a harlot,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
Your drink diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels,
And companions of thieves;
Every one loves a bribe,
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.
Is 1.21-23
They have not turned out to be the kind of a people through whom YHWH can fulfill his promise to Abraham that his descendents will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.

But then we suddenly get this short poem from the beginning of Chapter two. The text is disjunctive - there’s no smooth joined up transition from judgement to blessing, there’s no join, just a sudden jolt. Perhaps the text is like this because this is how YHWH is. He can seem threatening, absent even, then suddenly without announcement he is here, on the doorstep, laden with promise. YHWH leads Isaiah to see the ‘last days’ when he will put stuff right. He has a vision of Temple Mount in Jerusalem, lifted high over other hills, all lit up with light beaming from it, and miriads of people streaming towards it. Listen:

the mountain of the house of YHWH will be established as the chief of the nations - YHWH will be seen as supreme over the nations with their idols, and by implication Israel will become top nation.
the nations will stream to the temple to hear YHWH’s teaching and to learn to walk the ways of YHWH.
YHWH will be back in the temple - the temple to which he never returned when it was rebuilt after Israel returned from captivity in Babylon. [Malachi 3.2 - “and YHWH will suddenly come to his temple”] The holy of holies remained empty - as Emperor Caligula discovered when he entered it after the sack of Jerusalem in AD70.
So Torah will go forth from Zion, YHWH’s word from Jerusalem - his instructions on how human life should be lived
YHWH will arbitrate between nations
And there will be peace - weapons hammered into agricultural implements, no more training for war ever again. Tanks into harvesters, the end of the military industrial machine. Ain’t gonna learn war no more.

Jesus was born some centuries after Isaiah wrote this, when there was intense interest about when YHWH would bring it all about, including getting rid of the Romans and becoming top nation. People speculated about what part Israel had to play in this final,as yet unwritten, chapter of the story of YHWH and his people and the world. Different groups had different ideas bout this: Pharisees - keep the Torah better [trading on Deuteronomy 30]; Qumran - become a holy community; Zealots - holy war; Sadducees - ignore this prophecy stuff and keep as much power and status as possible by getting along with the Romans [the Christendom position]. But the early followers of Jesus had a radically different interpretation. Like many, they expected that YHWH would bring about his promises through a new King from the line of David, the Messiah. Unlike the many, they discovered that the Messiah was Jesus and they came to see that Isaiah’s vision, and more, the whole story and purpose of Israel, was fulfilled in Him. The last chapter had started, it had suddenly, and unexpectedly come true in Jesus of Nazareth. YHWH had done his New Thing, foreshadowed in all that He had done before.
Before long those early followers of the Way were claiming that Jesus is now the place where God’s glory dwelt on earth, a glory which he passed on to his people when he gave them the Spirit. Hence Paul can talk of his people who are in the Messiah as God’s temple. A temple that has been turned inside out as it were. The shekinah glory has returned but is no longer hidden away in the holy of holies. The Temple has been turned inside out. Isiaih’s vision of YHWH’s light streaming from the Temple is realised, fulfilled, by the Spirit indwelling little groups of disciples, indeed by the Spirit dwelling in each of them.
People from all nations came to hear him teach the ways of YHWH [think of the sermon on the mount], and as the church spread thoughout the near east all nations continued to come to him.
Pilate, representing the nations of this world, stood judged before him, though he said very little
Jesus modelled peace even when he was resisting the authorities, and his followers continued to live in peace at least until about the time of Constantine.

Those early followers knew that they were taking part in YHWH’s project to renew his creation. They were descendants of Abraham to whom the promise had been given. They knew the part that they had to play in the great drama. We are fellow actors with them in YHWH’s great project of restoration. What are we to do - a sort of active passivity. Working hard at letting YHWH work through us. Tonight’s three readings suggest some principles:
‘Come house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of YHWH’ says Isaiah. ‘Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven’, says Jesus. Live the Torah, the instruction of YHWH, so that others may also walk in his ways.
Or as the apostle Paul puts it, having realised that the Messiah is now the Torah, ‘but put on The Lord Jesus Messiah’. I don’t know if by the time that Paul wrote that the custom had sprung up of candidates for baptism being dressed up in a white gown. But it’s a lovely metaphor for coming into the family of the Messiah. I guess that ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Messiah’ is about the whole process by which we grow into his likeness - as individuals and as a church. A process furthered by what we now call the spiritual disciplines, eg prayer, bible study, worship, fasting, love of enemies, the practice of peace, and so on - ways in which we keep the channels open for the Spirit to flow in and out of us.
Jesus tells us that our attitude should be an alert watchfulness for his coming: “Keep awake, then; for you do not know on what day your Lord is to come. Remember, if the householder had known at what time of night the burglar was coming, he would have kept awake and not let his house be broken into. Hold yourselves ready, therefore, because the Son of Man will come at the time you least expect him” We don’t know the time when we will see God’s new beginning complete, the renewal of creation and the Lord’s house, the Temple, filling the whole earth. But the time has started, the Spirit has been given, the Shekinah glory has been let loose in the world. He comes to the baptised [or is it better to say he flares up inside the baptised] at times that suit his purpose of showing YHWH’s glory through us. Perhaps Jesus is reminding us to be alertly watchful for these times too. Perhaps to earnestly ask for such times, such opportunities to be a channel through whom YHWH brings the hope, the healing, the forgiveness, the freedom, the beauty, the purpose and the glory of the Kingdom to others.

Do we want many peoples to come to the Messiah that he may teach them his ways? Do you want to see the blossoming of peace which springs up through communities that have Him at their centre? Do we look for the spread of God’s glory throughout the earth. Do we want these things for ourselves and for our neighbours? If yes then tonight’s readings call us to live as if the Kingdom has come - because it has, though not yet in all it’s fulness. They remind us, because we need to keep remembering, that YHWH always has new stuff for us to be and to do and to receive from him. He invites us to live expectantly, never knowing what he will do next, but being sure that he has only the best for us and holy work to do. Finally:
Isaiah says to us: come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of YHWH
Paul says to us:put on the Lord Jesus Messiah, and
Our Lord Jesus the Messiah himself tells us to hold ourselves ready, because the Son of Man will come when we least expect him.

In language and action, there’s a new brutalism in Westminster
Will Hutton, guardian.co.uk
It was a litany of nastiness couched in the language of reform, fairness and helpfulness. A series of measures to bring the spending review speech to a triumphant political finale, appealing to poisonous prejudice but framed to minimise any such…

In language and action, there’s a new brutalism in Westminster
Will Hutton, guardian.co.uk

It was a litany of nastiness couched in the language of reform, fairness and helpfulness. A series of measures to bring the spending review speech to a triumphant political finale, appealing to poisonous prejudice but framed to minimise any such…

Interesting list of medical and other treatments a selection of doctors wouldn’t undergo themselves.

Sermon Yr B Proper 22 Moving Outwards

Reading: Letter to the Hebrews, 1.1-4; 2.5-12

From conversations that I’ve had with Christian parents, I know that our young people often have difficulty with the contrast between being in the church and being outside, especially at school.  Inside the church they are with people who know the stories of Yahweh’s doings with Israel and of his New Thing in Jesus the Messiah.  But at school they are talking with friends and teachers who know none of this. It’s the same for us adults too.  We are in the middle of a process of cultural forgetting about our roots and cultural misunderstanding of what the church is about and does for our society.  

Yesterday, the Christmas catalogue of ‘The Original Gift Company’ dropped through our letter box.  You can tell it’s the Christmas edition by the Dickensian shop front and Christmas trees on the cover.  But nowhere in it are any ‘gifts’ that refer to the story of Christmas, unless you count one cherub and a tea-light decoration with three angelic children.  You can, however, buy a full set of laughing Bhuddhas and a lucky Bhuddist elephant that only works if it’s on a high shelf. 

This increasing amnesia for the stories of Yahweh, Israel, Jesus and the church are making it more and more difficult to share our good news of the ‘new in Jesus’ with our neighbours, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  They simply don’t understand what we are talking about.  They live in a different world from ours.  How can we move out from our church home into a world which is losing the categories of thought that would enable its inhabitants to understand what we are saying? How can we say ‘Jesus is Lord’ in a way that can be understood enough to present people with a choice of whether to follow him or not?

The short answer is ‘like the early church did’.  Those early small town Jewish converts to Christianity found a way to speak to their Gentile neighbours throughout the Roman Empire.  They managed to use Gentile concepts when talking to Gentiles, and yet still maintain a link to the stories of Yahweh and Israel and keep faithful to their new experience of God through Jesus. 

It was some feat because Gentiles thought very differently about how the universe works than did Jews.  Gentiles of the time believed in a top-down universe.  At the top was what we might call God, which was thought to be perfect and timeless.  The top was connected to the earth at the bottom by a sort of ladder which consisted of beings that got less and less like God the lower down the ladder you went, with us at the bottom.  This hierarchy of lesser beings gave God some power in the world but protected it from contamination by the imperfect changelings of earth.  Anyone that wanted to get to the top of the ladder to merge with God had to give up the characteristics of what we think of as human - especially the body and its desires. It left human beings rather alone. Now, Israel’s experience of Yahweh was very different from this Gentile view of how things work.  Israel had experienced Yahweh as being involved in the daily detail of their life, they knew his love and his anger and even his violence.  They tell the story, too, in their scriptures, of how Yahweh was a God who changed.  He had a history, a story.  The early Jewish christians claim to have experienced the latest and newest and peak chapter in that story.  It was that story that they wanted to pass on to their Gentile acquaintances, families and friends - people with a very different world-view than their own.  We can get a clue about how they did this from The Letter to the Hebrews, whose introduction we have just heard read to us. 

It sounds as if the writer [we don’t know who he or she was] was addressing a group of newly converted Gentiles who were feeling tempted to go back to their old ways of thinking.  The writer’s masterstroke is to get on to their wavelength by constructing a picture that they would understand of God at the top of a ladder populated by angels who were his communication with earth. Then he proves by means of various quotes from some Psalms that Jesus is son of God at the top.  Then he show how God first makes Jesus lower than the angels, then, after he suffers a human death, exalts him and puts everything under his feet.  In his return to the top of the ladder Jesus brings with him ‘many sons to glory’.  The writer is saying that God, in Jesus, is collapsing the ladder and that people who attach themselves to Jesus are drawn into his presence, with no need to divest themselves of their humanity, body and all.  What the writer has done is to start with the Gentile view of the universe and show how God in Jesus subverts it and brings God and man, earth and heaven into communion.  This must have sounded like good news to many folk of the time, because the church spread quickly in Gentile populations. 

The main point of this sermon is to say that we need to engage in the same process today as did the writer to the Hebrews 20 centuries ago, though not using his ideas or words. If we start talking to modern people who have no experience of church about angels they might well be interested, because the word might tweak a kind of New Agey frisson of the strangely spiritual. But they cannot immediately understand what the writer to the Hebrews is really talking about because by and large the people we share our lives with today don’t share our view of a universe that is open ‘at the top’ to the creative, sustaining, blessing power of God. They live in a closed universe.  If we are going to be able to share with them the good news of Jesus we need to understand their world and the way they feel their needs.  So we need to learn to listen before we talk.  [A question which I’m not going to try to answer today is how can we help each other to do this, and how can we help our young people to do it?]  Though understandings and needs vary between different people and groups we can nevertheless discern some wider patterns, which might help us to attune our ears to what understanding and needs underlie the conversations we have with our friends, families and colleagues.  I’ll list a few, in no particular order: 

1. People are anxious.  They don’t feel safe in the world - climate change and fears of shortages and of violence and so on.

2. When things go wrong, or someone does wrong, people think that someone should pay, hence the adverts by accident lawyers on TV.

3. There is no help - it’s down to each one of us to compete for what’s going, to grab, to win.  We are alone.

4. We mean nothing unless we are celebrities

5. No-one is expressing a believable vision for what things could be like, and few believe it really can get better [politicians are useless or all the same]

6. There is little sense of awe - except in those secular religious events such as the lottery draw, military parades, royal weddings and the like. 

People have ways of diverting themselves, of hiding from these needs in their lives.  They include a search for personal fulfilment in body, mind, job etc; wistful optimism; cynicism, radical protest; and historical romanticism. 

But what do we say to our friends and acquaintances when we notice such needs as these in what they say and do.  How do we bring them gospel, evangelion, good news? 

The writer to the Hebrews says ‘But we do see Jesus’.  We do see Jesus.  We have found, are learning to find, him a trustworthy saviour who meets the needs that I’ve spoken of, who meets our needs.  So we can talk to our friends and acquaintances about him.  About the Son of Man, the Truly Human One.  They might just find it easier to hear us we we talk about a man rather than about God, at least at first.

But what sort of things might we say?

- to those drying up from lack of a vision we might tell them of his manifesto at Nazareth [Luke 4.17 ff] where he claimed to be bringing sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, movement to the lame and good news to the poor.  We might tell them of his assurance that a new society from the future where all is right is growing in the world and will one day be all that is.

- to those who feel that someone should pay, or that they need to pay for what they are ashamed of, we might say that Jesus said that he came to give his life a ransom for many, so no other payments for guilt are due, ever again.

- to those who feel alone we might invite to pray and be prayed with, and to offer opportunities to enjoy hospitality in our community - though that means that when we meet we need to be open about the fact that we are people who find our needs met in Jesus.  

- to those who are frightened of death we might tell of how he refused to stay dead and conquered all the powers that degrade human life by rising again. 

- to the sick we might bring experiences of healing.

- to those who want to find a new way to live we might tell of how he left his Spirit so that we can experience being part of him and can find power to live as he teaches e.g in loving our enemies, in waging peace not war, in sharing our goods.

But let me remind you - this work has to be done person to person, group by group, and it must start with listening. 


Those early Christians were fired up with their experience of Jesus, the risen Jesus.  They were able to make the jump from the Jewish to the Greek world partly by using the ideas of that world and showing how Jesus had radically changed things and brought good news.  That good news spread like wild-fire so that what started with one man, the Truly Human One, and a few fishermen became the official faith of the Roman Empire in about three centuries.  We find ourselves in similar sorts of times to those early Christians.  God can do again what he’s done before.

On this day when the Government has announced changes in the Armed Forces I chanced across this in a book I haven’t read for a long time:
“The most sincere and fervent Fathers of the Church said the same thing about the incompatibility of Christianity with one of the fundamental and unavoidable conditions of the existing political structure: the army. For a Christian cannot be a soldier and cannot be prepared to murder anyone he is told to. The Christian community of the first to the fifth centuries A.D categorically declared, through its leaders, that Christianity forbids any murder, including murder in war.” Leo Tolstoy in ‘A Confession’, page 187

A true prophetic word for the Church of England Oh how I wish there was an Anabaptist Congregation in Teesside.

Good story this